In addition to protecting religious freedom in this country, a large part of our work involves defending religious freedom around the globe.
That's why this new report by the U.S. State Department is of great interest. The Department's 13th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom documents numerous ways in which governments and societies violate religious freedom, including:
- Active State Repression and Impunity
- Violent Extremist Attacks
- Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws
- Repression of Religious Minorities
As Secretary of State Clinton put it: "Hatred and intolerance are destabilizing. When governments crack down on religious expression, when politicians or public figures try to use religion as a wedge issue, or when societies fail to take steps to denounce religious bigotry and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they embolden extremists and fuel sectarian strife."
The report lists the worst offenders of the 198 countries studied. The following list is unchanged from the previous year - the "countries of particular concern" - Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
The "countries of particular concern" (CPC) designation means the countries engaged in or tolerated "severe violations of religious freedom," including persecution, harassment, abuse, discrimination and detention of religious minorities or activists and the prohibition of practicing religions not sanctioned by the government.
Unfortunately, the State Department stopped short and failed to add some of the world's worst offenders to the list. One specific example is Pakistan, where there is growing violence and persecution aimed at the Christian minority there.
Our international affiliate recently secured an important victory for a Christian family who faced persecution in Pakistan because of their faith. Our team successfully represented Rashid Masih’s family against a number of Muslims who tortured and killed Masih after he refused to convert to Islam. In July, the Sessions Court in Mian Channu, Pakistan, announced its verdict in which it sentenced three Muslims to life imprisonment for the brutal murder of Masih.
In addition to Pakistan, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is calling for the inclusion of other countries to be added to the list. USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo recommended that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam be added to the list of "countries of particular concern."
"The Commission welcomes the first CPC designations of the Obama administration, but is concerned that no new countries were added to the list," said Leo. "Repeating the current list continues glaring omissions, such as Pakistan and Vietnam."
We agree. It's time for the State Department to update this list. When it comes to religious freedom, the world deserves to know which countries are the worst offenders.